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3 Way Switch Troubleshooting

3 Way Switch Troubleshooting is Simple - Play Musical Chairs

Watch the above video to see how to troubleshoot a 3-way switch that you goofed up.

Yes, I know you did. I know you had good intentions, but now you've got the wrong wires on the wrong screws.

Using just painters tape, a marker, a screwdriver and needle-nose pliers, Tim Carter shows you how to get the switch working before your wife or significant other walks through the door.

Related Links

New 3-Way Switch Wiring Video - What's Behind the Walls?

3-Way Switch Tips & Tricks

Fixing 4-Way and 3-Way Switches - Easy If You Try

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18 Responses to 3 Way Switch Troubleshooting

  1. I watched your new video on troubleshooting a 3 way switch. Since all my switches work properly, I’m not taking them apart just to play musical numbers. The video looked fine, I hope it helps people out.

  2. Just me but I am one of those people who if I am told, just a second or just a minute, I expect that it will be that. As you well know it rarely is any of those. Just today I said 5 minutes to finish a task and then worried if I made it. I don't know if I did or not, but I know I was close.
    Have a great day.

    • Robert,

      I suggest you take a vacation to Jamaica and adopt a word/saying they have there.

      Manana "another time".

      It's a frequent answer to any question when someone is asked for a deadline about anything.


      In other words, relax.

  3. I had the same problem with a 4 way switch, which had dissolved. No markings on the wires. The box had no ground, either.

    Swap the 2 wires on one end of the new switch, and one way or the other should work.

    If all else fails, draw a circuit diagram and figure it out!

    • Jim,

      Why didn't you come here and watch my 4-Way Switch video I taped nine years ago???

      When you have problems, always come here and type the keyword phrase into my search engine.

      • Well, I cheated and went to engineering school and got an MSEE. One thing I learned is to draw a schematic, and rearrange to make sense. Label your wires. Simulate... analyze ... then the light comes on (figuratively and physically).

  4. Based on what your wife said on the 3-way switch video, I'd say you're now the "Rodney Dangerfield" of do-it-yourself websites.

  5. Interesting?! Part of the deal is to identify which 3-way switch has a problem. Seldom, if ever, do both fail
    at the same time. So one may need to play musical chairs with both switches. Of course it may just make better sense and save a headache by replacing both.

    • Ed,

      Most people get into trouble replacing one switch. But my method works for both, however if a person replaced BOTH switches at once and goofed up the wiring on both, then my method will take them some time to get it right. They'll need to go watch my original 3-Way Switch video and identify the HOT wire coming from the panel. If they then hook up that switch as I show in the original video, then they can use THIS video to connect the second switch.

  6. Tim
    I think you have made extra work for the diy guy.
    The only screw terminal that is important is the black(common ) one.Just sequence wire #1 #2 & #3 to the black screw.
    Start with #1 on black. If that doesn't work swap with #2 (now #2 is on common) NO NEED to touch #3 . if that fails swap #2 with #3 (now #3 is on common)
    NO NEED to move #1. Why make extra work?
    This also reinforces the theory behind the swaps
    as you are trying to identify the start or end wire of the circuit. The positions of the travelers is of no concern as it only affects which position (up or down) of the switch selects traveler A. (totally irrelevant to the operation of the circuit.

  7. Tim,

    Our house is about 12-14 years old and some light switches crackle and smell when we turn them on or off. So we have replaced all the single pole switches in the house.

    We have several 3 way switches, but have only replaced the two in our kitchen so far. Here's why: Replaced switch 1 and 2 and wired in exactly like old switches. Tested. Switch 1 would control the light as long as switch 2 was turned on. Used the musical chairs method and tested after each try. The best I could get it was that switch 2 will work if switch 1 is turned.

    We walk by switch 1 more, so at least it's semi-convenient while it's not fully functional. Should we repeat the musical chairs method to switch 1?


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